Zimbabwe ready to explode with excitement – Rinomhota

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Andy Rinomhota in action for EFL Championship side Cardiff City

Zimbabwe have made their best start to World Cup qualifying since their attempts to reach the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

  • Zimbabwe midfielder Andy Rinomhota speaks to FIFA
  • Cardiff City player recently declared for the African nation
  • He discusses his pride at representing the Warriors in FIFA World Cup 26 qualifying

In November 2023, Zimbabwe began the journey to FIFA World Cup 26™ by taking on Rwanda in Butare, where they kicked off their campaign with a well-earned 0-0 draw. Instead of returning south to their homeland, though, Zimbabwe’s players prepared for their next qualifying game in the land of a thousand hills.

Stadium issues back home ensured the upcoming game against continental powerhouses Nigeria would also take place in Rwanda’s Stade Huye, but the unfamiliarity didn’t end there.

Drafted in for his Warriors debut in central midfield was Cardiff City’s Andy Rinomhota, although the Leeds-born lynchpin’s presence on proceedings was far more welcome, and something that had been in the pipeline for over half a decade.

A mixture of injury concerns and passport issues meant that Rinomhota was unable to make his international debut – originally scheduled for way back in 2017 – for the nation of his father’s birth until the most recent qualifiers.

Andy Rinomhota made his international debut for Zimbabwe in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Nigeria in November last year

But for him and his family, it was certainly better late than never.

“All of my family were proud, my mum, her mum, my dad’s side, all the family in Zimbabwe,” Rinomhota told FIFA.

“They were really pleased and really excited for me to go. They were messaging me each day saying, ‘How’s it going?’, ‘How’re the people there?’ Obviously, it’s a whole new set of faces and a whole new experience, actually getting to represent the country. They were really proud and excited.

“It was always an option [to play for Zimbabwe], England is just right in front of you because you live in the country but knowing my dad is from Zimbabwe, it was obviously an option and it was going to be an achievement if I played for them.”

His first time back in the country since his toddler years came during the most recent international window as he sought to resolve the passport issues which had made the journey into the national side a longer one than expected.

While delays meant he missed the opening-day battle with Rwanda, the experience of revisiting the nation gave him his first taste of the country’s football fever.

“They just love football there,” Rinomhota continued.

“Even when I was there getting my passport sorted and people found out who I was, they were telling me how excited they were for us to get going and how much they were going to be cheering us on.

“I think they were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t play that home game [against Nigeria] in our actual home, but I think they were still following no matter what and keeping up to date with everything.”

Andy Rinomhota with Zimbabwe national teamate Tanaka Shandirwa

More than 1,500 miles away, their ‘home’ encounter with Nigeria brought about Rinomhota’s long-awaited debut.

He started in midfield alongside captain and national hero Marvellous Nakamba – who the debutante described as a “top professional” and a “great, great player” – and Stade de Reims’ Marshall Munetsi.

The midfield trio worked a treat, helping their side to a one-goal lead at the break. Zimbabwe’s desire to stray away from the script forced their illustrious rivals into a triple half-time change which eventually paid dividends midway through the second half when Kelechi Iheanacho equalised.

Zimbabwe more than held their own, though, and secured a well-deserved draw.

The key, according to Rinomhota, is not to fear the other sides in qualifying, but to use their quality as extra motivation to compete and flourish.

“I enjoyed it! I think when you’re coming up against that high level of opponent it almost inspires you even more. It makes you thrive and want to work harder to get to the level that they are at.

“It [was] a good test for myself and everyone else playing in there to see where they’re at and what the difference is between the two levels you’re playing at. I think, on the whole and on the day, I can be happy with my performance.”

Two points from their opening two games represents the nation’s best start to a qualifying campaign in more than 15 years, when a draw with Guinea and victory over Namibia opened an ultimately unsuccessful bid to reach the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Zimbabwe have been led to this point by Brazilian coach Baltemar Brito – former assistant to Jose Mourinho

Zimbabwe have been led to this point by Brazilian coach Baltemar Brito – former assistant to Jose Mourinho at both Porto and Chelsea – who had spent time managing in the country with Highlanders. The 71-year-old’s vast knowledge and experience – his career also includes spells in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Greece – has shown in his early meetings with newcomer Rinomhota.

“I’ve had a good few conversations with him when I was there,” he said.

“He gave me his idea of [how] he was wanting to play, how he was planning on playing me and asking me If I agreed with that. I liked that a lot because it wasn’t just him telling me what he wanted to do and I needed to do that regardless; it was taking in my opinion.

“He has very good ideas tactics-wise, he’s a good guy, he speaks good English and he made it very easy for me to slot into the team.”

While Rinomhota and Co will make sure to take matters one game at a time, the nation’s latest recruit can’t hold back his excitement at the thought of the Warriors battling their way to a maiden World Cup qualification.

“If we were able to get to the World Cup, I think everyone would be so proud to see how far African football has come, and Zimbabwe itself. All the boys, and all the coaches and staff involved in Zimbabwe, are so excited about these qualifiers – and just seeing that we have actual potential, it’s not that far out of our grasp.

“I think everyone’s just there on their toes, ready [and] waiting to hopefully experience the full concept of the World Cup. I think if Zimbabwe were to qualify, the whole country would explode with excitement and passion. We’re just going to do what we can to try and get to that World Cup and then you’ll see how much the celebrations will begin.”

 

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